A little over a year ago, when I first had the sneaking (strong) suspicion that I’m probably on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I met with my counselor, a kind and empathetic person whom I’d been meeting with semi-regularly for the past few years.
A couple of sessions before that day, I had informed him of the new discovery.
Although he had gotten to know me well in the several years before that day, and although he was a very nice guy and fairly competent professional, it was I who initially brought up the Asperger’s/autism possibility. Like every other professional I’d seen, he had “missed it”, altogether overlooking the possibility. I had overlooked the possibility, too, but then, I’m not a specialist in this area. Therefore, I’m probably “allowed” to have overlooked it. It wasn’t my field, and I was by no means an expert.
Despite our long-ish track record (several years), he had come to know me for me, without labels, and without filters. However, as soon as he realized that I was more than likely correct about being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, it became clear to me that he no longer saw me as “Laina”, but rather, “Aspergian/Autistic Laina”.
That in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it could have been a good thing…
…had it been perceived a little more accurately and handled a little bit better.
Suddenly, my behaviors and quirks were under the scrutiny of an autism lens, and a pathology-based one at that.
The clincher was when he said, “you’re making better eye contact today”.
He meant no ill will by that remark; he meant it as a compliment.
Unfortunately, it’s not.
What follows is the response that I thought of later, long after I had stopped seeing him and started on my own journey. Although what I have to say may come off a little hostile, I mean no ill will toward him when I make the following statements (they apply to anyone who does this–not just him–I’m speaking more globally now)…
Praising me/us because I’m/we’re making better eye contact during our counseling/therapy session this week, and calling that an improvement, is not “Asperger’s/autism acceptance”. Do these professionals (or anyone else, for that matter) have any idea how distracting that is for me or how uncomfortable that makes me? Compliments usually feel good, but there’s something unsettling about a compliment that is only rendered because I now have shoehorned myself (quite uncomfortably) into their tight little box.
Handing out comments like that doesn’t accept my difference; in fact, it only reinforces the fact that they don’t. And repeats the expectation that I’m somehow “better” or “improved” if I act less like me and more like them. Which often feels like a slap in the face to me. It feels as thought they’re sending me the message that I’m not good enough as I am. That somehow, I simply don’t “measure up”. That I need to be Less Like Me.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t want anyone to give me a complete “pass”, either. Letting me off the hook too easily and failing to be an effective guide for me by making endless excuses for me and not even nudging me to do my best is just as detrimental. At that point, if someone did/does this, it probably means they’ve given up, assuming that just because I’m autistic, I’m also intellectually disabled. I can understand. I can learn. But by failing to hold us to some kind of standard, they’re essentially setting us up to fail, to shirk responsibility. This induces pathological avoidance, and we never truly grow up and reach any kind of potential.
“Reaching our potential” might be an annoying buzzphrase, but it’s also the truth, and a beneficial concept, as well as a necessary part of growing up. It’s also a human right. We should be encouraged to reach our capacity and live the best life we possibly can. That’s only fair. That’s part of a parent’s or teacher’s job anyway.
I simply want to be accepted for being me. Accepted for my quirks, accommodated for my not-so-strengths (we all have them), and embraced for my differences. My brain runs on a different frequency, not another solar system, and certainly not a disorder. It’s only a disorder when looked at through a different and narrow lens, but then, through my lens, other neurotypes look disordered to me.
I’d rather live in a world where those differences are celebrated, across the sturdy bridge, on both sides. Where the traffic flows equally in both directions. Coming and going, giving and taking, sharing and receiving. The efforts will find us all richer in the end. 🙂
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How I ‘Came Out’ As An Aspie / Autistic To a Patient… ~ December 1, 2016
Most People Don’t Practice Acceptance of Autism ~ June 17, 2016